GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — One week removed from the one-year anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked invasion, the National Guard’s top officer visited Guardsmen helping to ensure the combat effectiveness of Ukrainian troops.
Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, extended a European itinerary that included regional security talks with African chiefs of defense in Italy to meet the Guardsmen. They are at the forefront of training, equipping and assisting Ukrainians just off the front lines from Ukraine’s fight for democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression — and soon returning.
“Our Guardsmen and their active component Army partners are exceptional trainers, and the Ukrainian Soldiers are motivated learners,” Hokanson said.
Elements of the New York National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team — collectively known as Task Force Orion — are staffing the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine mission. JMTG-U is a rotational mobilization under the operational command authority of U.S. European Command, U.S. Army Europe and Africa and 7th Army Training Command.
The CNGB met with Task Force Orion leadership and Soldiers at Camp Kherson, home of the JMTG-U.
“It is important for me to see you here to ensure you have everything you need to make the Ukrainians successful,” Hokanson told them.
“The whole world is watching the work you’re doing,” he said, “and it’s making a huge difference.”
More than 150 Task Force Orion Soldiers arrived at the largest U.S. military training facility in Europe in August. These Guardsmen assumed the JMTG-U mission from Task Force Gator, a unit established from the Florida Army National Guard’s 53rd IBCT.
Task Force Gator deployed to Combat Training Center-Yavoriv in Western Ukraine in November 2021. That unit repositioned to Grafenwoehr in February 2022, and its Guardsmen were some of the last Americans to leave Ukraine.
Hokanson met with members of Task Force Gator, who had resumed their role of training Ukrainian members in Germany last June. They told him they were happy to be reunited and training again with their Ukrainian counterparts.
National Guard units have supported JMTG-U since 2016 to help build Ukrainian defense capacity to deter and defend itself against further aggression. This is the second time the 27th IBCT has served with the JMTG-U, following a deployment to Ukraine in 2017. It is the first Guard unit to serve two JMTG-U rotations.
“We’re here to help in any way we can,” Army Col. William Murphy, the Task Force Orion commander, told Hokanson.
“We are the conduit between active U.S. military forces and members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Murphy said. “We know the urgency of this mission and the gravity of what the Ukrainian people have at stake.”
Task Force Orion is providing integration, training, linguistic, logistical and medical support to Ukrainian members.
Army 1st Lt. James Arpaio serves as the task force’s linguist manager. He said training plans for the linguists include weapons familiarization, land navigation, radio operation, first aid, and other basics to help them become subject matter experts on the instructions they are translating.
Arpaio said his civilian career experience as a store director with a large retail company has paid dividends during this mobilization.
“Being able to engage, inspire and develop others is a large focus of mine with the same intensity as in my civilian job,” Arpaio said.
National Guard elements from several states have built enduring relationships with their Ukrainian counterparts for 30 years. The California Guard’s pairing with Ukraine in 1993 was one of the first partnerships established in the Defense Department National Guard State Partnership Program.
“Our close ties with Ukraine speak to the global strategic relevance of the Guard,” Hokanson said. “Training is more effective when it’s built on trust and enduring relationships.
“I am incredibly proud of the work our Guardsmen and women continue to do in support of our Ukrainian partners,” he said.
When he asked Task Force Orion Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Markle about the morale of the Ukrainians, he was told plainly:
“They are extremely motivated to push the Russians out of Ukraine.”